The Iron Door

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2015 by Howard Faxon

Science Fiction Story: A hiker stumbles onto a heavy iron door set into the side of a river cut. After figuring out how to open it he is tested, then enlightened with a technology predating the Egyptian Pharos. From there it gets strange.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Science Fiction  

I'd been a camper and backpacker for decades. I finally got the chance to tramp the woods in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. It was mountainous and cut by river valleys--quite rough territory. I used a national geodetic survey map along with a GPS to explore all the hidden crests, ridges, valleys and crevices that I could access.

I was working around a narrow water cut with a stream flowing at its foot when I came upon a small overhanging cliff that sheltered one side of the stream bank. It had a gravel bank and led up to a small shelf where I could make my night's shelter. The long decades had slowly built up a supply of water-tossed firewood at the tightest bend of the creek. I had to move it all to one side and stack it to make room for my tarp and bedroll.

Back in the furthest crevice, completely overhung by the rock walls, I discovered a heavy iron door. It had no lock, no keyway, no ward. It was secured by a six-inch-square iron bar covered in tar, as was the door itself and the frame which was dug into the rock surround. With great effort I shouldered out first one side, then the other out of their brackets and cast the bar aside. There seemed to be no way to grasp the door to open it. I eventually spotted a square block in the surface of the door farthest from the hinges. It was made of fired clay. I broke it free and cleared the hole, then managed to fit the end of the locking bar into the hole in the door. With great effort that took the strength of my legs and back to achieve the door slowly creaked open. The door had been carefully fitted to the jamb. It was tapered like a ground glass cork in a bottle and quite thick, perhaps a foot or a bit less.

The hair on the back of my neck rose when I heard a low grunting and snuffling come from the cave within. After a bit I considered on the situation. "Whatever you are, you have been trapped within for far too long. Come out and make your way."

Something passed me by. It was enormous, and stank horribly. It was covered in rank brown fur. When it stood on two legs it well exceeded three times my height at over eighteen feet tall. I sat back in wonder at how a cave bear had existed long enough to cast its shadow on today's world. I wished it well, but first wished that it would bathe. By damn, it was rank!

With the door fully open I dragged the locking bar partially into the doorway. I didn't want anyone locking me in. It didn't appear as if there was any way a mortal man was going to open that thing from the inside without the copious use of explosives. Even then, the concussion would make survival doubtful at best.

I fumbled through my pack for a little mason-jar oil lamp I carried. I liked the fact that the screwed-on lid kept the oil on the inside of the lamp rather than the inside of the pack and it used nice, cheap vegetable or olive cooking oil. After donning my pack once more and lighting my lantern I began exploring the extent and features of the cave. It was quite extensive and appeared to have been hand-worked, driven far back into the stone cliff. The space had many regular columns set in a grid, supporting a complex vaulted ceiling. I followed the wall in and around so as not to become lost. The many columns were so nearly identical that it seemed designed to get an explorer lost. The only reference point that I could find was the wall of the cave.

As I explored I marvelled at the size and uniformity of the construction. As I proceeded I noticed subtle differences in the pattern of the necking making up the capitals of the columns. The bands were of different thicknesses and spacing. I began to make note of the patterns. I discovered that it was a numeric sequence--in base eight! The things were arranged like an abacus. I eventually made my way around the chamber until I found a capital that had nothing but finely chiseled narrow grooves separating many wide bands. It seemed to be the highest numbered column in the sequence. It made sense in that it was quite close to the intersection of two stone walls.

I attempted to walk around it. Instead of finding a continuation of the chamber's floor I found myself in a narrow passageway leading into another, much smaller cave. It held a warm pool of water with a gentle jet feeding it from the center, a small shell-shaped shelf built into the wall occupied by a very dry oil lamp and a pit filled with sand that also held four amphora. From the scent of one they were filled with oil and had their points jammed deeply into the sand to keep them upright. Next to the lamp's shelf was a much longer shelf cut into the wall some three feet deep and two feet off the floor. Just before what I took to be the sleeping shelf was a raised table. It looked inviting. I tasted the water and found it acceptible. I cooked up a small bowl of oat meal above my oil lamp, then ate my dinner. After wiping out my bowl and spoon I washed my face and hands, set up my pallet, set out my lighter and blew out the lamp.

I had no idea what time of the night or day it was when I awoke. I never carried a watch when exploring. I gently reached out to follow the wall until I found the shelf where I had laid my lamp and lighter. I flicked my bic and the darkness was driven back. Rather than use up my own oil supply when a copious amount was provided I pulled up an amphora and balanced it on my knes. then I held the lamp that I had found on the shelf below the lip of the jar, while I gently worked loose the waxed wooden plug holding and protecting the oil within. I managed a thin stream of oil which half-filled the lamp, then drove home the plug once again. I put down the now-filled lamp and set the amphora back into the sand. Then, after soaking a bit of twisted-up paper towel in the oil I lay it partially in the oil reservoir and partly on the burning lip, then ignited it. A sweet smell remeniscent of night-blooming flowers filled the air. I blew out my lamp and waited for it to cool before refilling it and putting it away.

Since I had a warm water supply with a good flow I got out my little bottle of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap and took a bath. Then I washed my socks and underwear. I always kept a spare pair of those necessities. The first pair of shorts and socks got laid out to dry on the sleeping shelf. I got the urge to take a dump. I wasn't about to crap in the corner, so I used a gallon baggie and a paper towel. After drinking a cup of tea I began to examine the room on a much finer scale. I went so far as to go digging around in the amphora storage pit and found nothing of interest. The only unusual item I came up with was a seam running down the middle of the table in front of the sleeping bench. I piled everything of mine on the sleeping shelf then began working on that table. I pushed, pulled, twisted, slid and jumped on that thing to no avail. Then I wondered if the lid would come off of it altogether. When I applied a good pull straight up the top rose smoothly the distance of two handsbreaths. Then the halves separated to show the contents of the table's pedestal.

I found a finely crafted necklace bearing a large flat red gem, a table top rest with a small dish in the top center, a twelve inch fat-waisted crystal spindle with a small ring around the top and a sharp tip on the bottom. There was also a long box filled with round disks and a cord with a "T" handle at one end. I put the necklace over my head to let it ride naturally on my chest.

Seat? Spindle? Disc? Pull-cord? They were gyroscopes! I assembled it from the top-most disc in the box, balanced it with my fingertip and firmly pulled the cord. It started slowly spinning, then accellerated. I sat down, entranced. flashes of light were occuring, then coming in bands. As it stabilized I witnessed a movie--an instructional guide! Within moments I could hear and understand the sound. I was being taught how to create and use a power cell crystal which, from my guessing about the implementation techniques, was fusion based. The last few moments of the video showed how to open the bottom of the base and access the practice crystals within.

I put the disc back into the box then slid open the bottom of the base. I carefully shook out the first crystal into my palm. I used my little ultra-bright LED flashlight to examine it carefully. It was nothing but a white quartz crystal. I closed my eyes and felt for the crystal. I had it. This was cool! It popped erect in my hand. I had to work in layers from the center out, leaving a pinhole through its center. When finished, I loaded it with a dip in the water and sealed up the pinholes. I took a twenty out of my wallet and flattened it on the table, then gently rubbed the base of the crystal to set up the first oscillation. It warmed in my hand and self-illuminated with a bright blue-white glow. I'd done it. I could make one the diameter of a double-A cell and half the length that would supply anything up to 250 volts for well over five years. Amperage? How good were your contacts? One the size of a child's bowling ball would generate ten megawatts per hour for longer than I'd ever be alive, even with a gifted genetic line.

That was one hell of a gift. I wondered what else was in store. I'd heard stories of Atlantis being run by crystals, but the land I was on used to be a shallow sea. How old WAS this place, anyway? Was that door made of steel or something else?

The second movie showed me how to make perfect crystals from common sand or other minerals such as borax, and how to then dope them with various common compounds found near streams and places where man had disturbed the surface, such as road cuts, to create many varieties of feed-stock crystals which other devices would require.

I created crystals the size of the last joint of my little finger from the sand in the tank on the floor and the mineral grit in the corners. I made emeralds, rubies, various sapphires and amythests. I learned to control calving and to control the closure of a single crystal. I used my bag of feces to make a diamond, and then to make diamond sheathes to surround the more delicate gemstones such as the sheet of ruby.

If nothing else I'd never be destitute again as long as I lived and had dirt to work with.

I created a power crystal the size of my little finger though a bit longer. I charged and started it, then coated it with a thin layer of dark yellow sapphire for color. Then I blew out the lamp. There was no sense wasting oil.

The third disc tought me how to modify a clear sapphire to see long distances, short distances, microscopic sizes and through materials. My head hurt after that one. I took a warm relaxing bath and fell asleep in the tub. I woke up wrinkled as a prune but happy that I had shaken that killer headache. I made some oat meal and had 'breakfast'. I then fashioned a curved clear sapphire and converted it to a viewing visor that I could wear like a pair of sunglasses. Who needed light when you could see the shadows that matter left on the universe?

The fourth disc gave me devices that could be used with a power crystal in concert. I had no idea that there were so many ways a resonance could be set up to do things such as changing the vector of a mass in motion, heat up real mass uniformly at various rates or correspondingly chill real mass uniformly at various rates, disrupt or focus electromagnetic energy or act to block various forms of concentrated energy. These fields could also be dialled back to simply sense the presence of mass or concentrated energy by vector. The sensitivity the device exhibited, however, left much to be desired.

It must have taken thousands of years to learn how to generate some of the fields I was taught. The most ingenious was a continuous laser that had an output that measured in the terawatts per second. Creating and handling a power supply to generate that much energy would have been not only dangerous as hell but too massive to be portable with 'known' physics. Instead a small space within the device was shifted slightly and matter was introduced to that space, causing a conversion to energy. Several shells of fields were necessary to keep the thing from being more dangerous to the user than the receiver. It was possible to make bigger ones, but--WHY?

That one was for combat or extra-atmospheric use. Smaller, less-powerful versions were for every-day use that wouldn't cause such enthusiastic ionization along the beam path, thus irradiating everything far and wide.

The kinetic beam weapon was fun! You pointed it at something and it left in some direction fast enough to break the local speed of sound, sometimes by multiple orders. With units built along the same principles were equipped with fine controls they produced wonderful 'effectors'. I needed to integrate our current technology's principles of robotic control, the sensors and the effectors to create ... but that was in the future. Hell, I could easily create a mine or a grenade with a little technological fusion here. Imagine shooting something the size of a filbert out of a sling shot that, when it landed, made a hole that would hide a quarry-sized dump truck. It wasn't just theoretical, either. I could visualize the steps to make them.

I used a small pocket-full of change to make a wrist band that would protect me from falls, blows or projectiles. Likewise I made a thumb ring supporting a cylindrical blue amythest that would fire a 2mm laser from wherever I was standing, to ... orbit, I guessed. I needed to integrate a directional feedback device into the ring and the visor so that my first shot wouldn't be wild. However, for 'short' distances it was fine. The shield had a variable distance control built into it so I could protect more than myself. Conversely once it was powered up I could expand its area of affect to blow out any restraints or confining room walls, up to and including a bank vault. I'd have to learn how to anchor myself to the planet before being hit though, or I'd be knocked around like a pool ball.

The discs seemed to have a progression that I couldn't quite comprehend. Perhaps it was oriented about a heirarchy in their culture, as the Mayans reputedly elevated citizens by their skills and value to the city-state.

The next disc, number five, required quite a bit of in-born talent to integrate two devices. The visor could locate raw materials (or even things made by people that you really, really wanted to piss off). The grabber was made out of silver lattice and tiny yellow-green sapphires, all set into a diamond matrix to keep anything from oxidizing or shifting. The grabber caused points OR AREAS in space to become co-located.

At the end of the teaching session I sat down and wept. I wept for the lack of imagination of an entire race. They had star travel in the palms of their hands and did not know enough to close their fingers on it. I shook my head. Co-location without metric deformation plus locus control equals a low cost star drive. Thank God for the guard field technology. There was no way I was not going to be a modern-age messiah. I could see the assassination attempts coming already.

There was only one more disc left in the box. Dare I try it? Dare I activate it? I built the grabber into a heavy wrist guard. I donned the visor and pulled up a few ounces of gold, which I pressed into blank discs of roughly one ounce each. I searched near Lake Ponchatrain in the gulf coast of Louisiana. I found a diner that was serving. I replaced the order up of dirty shrimp with an ounce of gold, then sat down to a good meal. Afterwards I disposed of the trash in the dumpster behind my apartment building. I settled back for a long while, thinking about the ramifications, my ethical limits and choices I'd been both given and subjected to. I wondered what that last disc might do to me. They all seemed to act on me physically as well as psychologically. I didn't want to become a dedicated priest to a culture long defunct. I could cut and run with what I had, no question. However the question would haunt me for the rest of my life--what did they discover that they put on that last disc? I had to find out, dammit.

Having made a decision I fell asleep for the night.

Come morning, with great resolve I assembled the last gyroscope and spun it up, then watched it climb to operating speed.

"Congratulations. You have taken it upon yourself to finish the master set of training codex, knowing that you could have stopped at any time and gained great wealth and fame from what you had already undertaken, and that throughout the progression the next level could have destroyed your ability to reason. This last course of instruction holds much less risk yet requires your agreement to continue because of the dedication and time required to fulfill the objective."

It paused for a moment while I came back to myself. I'd gone this far and saw no reason not to continue. It sensed my assent and continued.

"The last breakthrough device which we have discovered is self-aware and intelligent. It adopts the reasoning, knowledge and personality of its teacher over time. One begins with an opal, thus..."

Well, I was the host of an infant artificial intelligence. If it modelled itself off of me it was going to be one screwed up puppy with my divergent interests and incipient death wish, currently expressed by exploring such locations and artifacts as the place which I currently had found. I had finished the master course, now it was time to prepare the place for its next student. I replaced the sand and grit that I had used and the oil in the amphorae. I remotely closed and barred the lower entrance. The upper entrance had long before been destroyed by tectonic activity. Rather than leave clues as to the location of the place I did not recreate the upper works of the temple.

I slung on my backpack and shifted to within five feet of my car. I set my pack gently into the trunk, opened the door and drove into town. My clothes didn't fit. I was six-six. I was a blue-eyed albino with slightly slanted eyes. My hair was a golden yellow, which made me a real atypical albino. I looked like a character from a Japanese manga magazine. I drove into Marion, where I found a clothing store. I was gawked at a bit, but the salesman eventually calmed down and got a tailor out front to take a set of measurements for me. While he was working on some long pants and jackets I bought some underwear, shorts, shirts, socks and athletic shoes, then changed in his dressing room.

I was back in society and had to act that way. I resolved not to become offended at the actions of others unless they became abusive, such as to damage my clothing or posessions, or attempt to damage my person. At a local diner I thought about reasonable, measured degrees of offense. The laser ring was just over the top. I formed a flat ruby disc the size of a dried walnut. It recieved a gold tracery over its surface and a delicate tracery of seed citrines, then I encased it in a diamond shell. I carefully embedded it into my right palm. Infinitesimal webs terminating in small discs went into each of my fingertips just at the surface, decorated with more seed citrines. That gave me a force projector the likes of which any old kung fu movie stunt coordinator would give both his nuts to procure. I got the idea from the Iron Man movies. The finger-tip devices would let me focus the output to a little smaller than a millimeter. Nasty. The force should penetrate out of my personal shield nicely.

While I was there I did a rough scan of the area with my visor. (I used a cubic foot scale for granularity.) I was surprised to find that the foundation of a local gas station held an old box containing two bank bags. It had been entombed within the concrete when it was poured, filling in an old grease pit. I carefully shifted the contents of the box to the seat of the booth next to me. The canvas bank bags were still intact. I opened one to find straps of silver and gold certificates in denominations of fifty, one hundred and five hundred dollars. They were all in great shape from being stored away for nearly a hundred years in an air-tight chamber. I removed a fifty for the waitress and put a dozen more in my wallet, then shifted the rest of them to the trunk of my car. I finished my bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and my waffle, had a small strawberry sundae (I was damned hungry!) then paid the waitress.

"Don't take this bill to the bank, sweetie. It's a silver certificate and worth at least twice the face value." She got big eyes and rushed off to get the manager, who happened to be the owner. After a lot of irrelevant questions I said, "What good is life if you can't make someone's day once in a while? Deal with it." I put on my brand new John Deer baseball cap and wandered out the door.

I sat on a park bench in the early October sun, wondering how to get this off the ground. I thought about my knowledge base and what I wanted to do with it. I was very young during the Mercury missions. I considered space travel the holy grail. I had a lot of instrumentation to look into. I had nearly unlimited power which bitch-slapped a lot of other problems, such as oxygen regeneration. Water tanks built into sheets, equipped with bubblers and filled with algae would do a bang up job as long as the array had light, heat and enough power to run the circulation pump and the aerator. I had the sensors, the effectors, the shields and the drive itself. What was missing was the integration--the fast high-precision direction. It couldn't be mechanical by nature because of the nature of lash-back in any mechanical drive train. It would have to be electronic, no--digital, in nature. It would no doubt include an analog phase because of how I'd have to adapt it from a human interface to an electronic one. High speed sampling should take care of that. How did the military state it? C-cubed I? Command, control, communications and information.

How could I integrate a mentally-controlled mass-defect sensor with a digital analysis core? I couldn't see it, quite frankly. I'd have to reverse engineer the visor's sensors to get to a common point of divergence. Only then could I take the human out of the equation while the system sped up into the digital ranges, necessary for what I'd planned. The pressure effectors promised kinetic effects without inertial lag because they affected cubic space, not just the wing mounts or rear of a craft. If it could be designed to encompass an entire ship then feats of navigation and control only previously dreamed of could be performed.

I decided to stay away from NASA as the 'Not Invented Here' and the 'We Own It' monsters ran rampant there. The same went for McDonnell-Douglas. Instead I bought a polluted factory space on Detroit's lakefront for pennies on the dollar, scoured it down to the bedrock and constructed a cavernous building that hid many sins while I tried out many geometries, integration suites and shell configurations. Once I had something safe to expose myself to I decided to tease NORAD a bit. With full kinetic control, it was child's play to lift a shielded Fed Ex delivery van into low Earth orbit, drop off a package and drop back to my bunker again. I took my time so that they had a good shot at photographing the whole process. Sorry, I couldn't stick around for a signature. Nobody was home. The next day I delivered a stack of pizzas to the international space station, still hot and in a vacuum-proof cell with a simple twist-lock, much like that of a submarine's hatch. I stuck around long enough to see them use a remote arm to pull the package into a transfer lock. I hoped that they liked the pizza. It was cheesy enough so that it shouldn't have self-destructed to leave bits and pieces floating around in zero gee.

I was amused to find a full page taken out in the Chicago Tribune by Federal Express, in essence asking me to stop promising in their name what their asses couldn't deliver. I counter-offered to become one of their contractors. You should have seen the goddamned contract that they wanted me to sign! I replied, "No way in hell. I'll put myself up in business and drive you out of the market before I sign this menace. Fire your lawyers. They're too aggressive."

Next, I got a simple eighty-twenty contract, no riders, no insurance. I thought that it was a pretty good deal, so I signed on the dotted line and bought a satellite-telephone, then sent them my number. The Chinese government wanted a habitat placed at L-5, the leading Lagrangian point. Boy, I must have pissed off everybody with a telescope in the business. I trans-located the whole thirty-thousand ton lot of it directly into a stable L-5 location, staff and all. I made eight billion, Fed Ex made two. I wasn't happy to give the government over half. Then they wanted to 'talk' to me. In the words of Rocky, "Fuck Dat."

French Guiana sits just North of the equator on the South American continent. To quote, "A large part of the ... economy derives from the presence of the Guiana Space Centre, now the European Space Agency's primary launch site near the equator."

I emigrated to French Guiana. In essence I bought myself a passport for several million dollars. Next I rebuilt six square miles of rocky irregular land into a spaceport, with the land converted to knurled quartz down to bedrock. I could only hande so much of the conversion at a time. It took me several long months of dedicated efford to do. It was located some fifteen miles south of Cayenne, behind a hilly ridge.

It took much longer for a company contracted out of France to build a small high-end subdivision cradled by the 200 meter bluffs, construct the support services and improve the local roads to the airport, and then on to Cayenne. It must have caused some head-scratching when I had the power plant layouts for the spaceport tower, my aircraft hangar and the subdivision changed to be four meter cubes of reinforced concrete, containing only the power feeds terminated in meter panels and breakers. I figured to hell with them. I didn't owe them any explanations--just money. It was my first, second and third attempt at creating an industrial-sized power supply. I had to do a little head-scratching myself to efficiently convert the DC to a regulated 50 Hz sine-wave AC.

The homes were fabricated off-site in a factory, shipped to the site along with a crane and assembled on reinforced concrete pads. They were well-built and comfortable. Hell, I lived in one myself.

High stone berms surrounded and segmented the field to keep any accidents from taking out the entire center. One six-mile-long airstrip edged the property. I bought and paid for a supercomputer installation based on a Beowulf Linux cluster. It was run from the basement of the spaceport command and control facility. I hired current generation computer warriors that worked with graphic processor programming, building languages to cope with polygon operations which was the storage model the GPUs used.

Before long we had an international community growing fast, with full bi-directional high-speed digital communication with CERN. Some of the capabilities of the sensors leaked out. It caused a lot of panic on the international security scene because there wasn't a damned thing they could do to defend against it. It operated through a 'new' principle in physics. They couldn't regulate it, block it, buy it or bomb it out of existence. From the state department's reaction, I think the United States' NSA broke out in a full-blown screaming, fall-on-the-floor, heel-kicking tantrum. Poor babies. We had two aircraft carriers and a marine troop carrier just offshore for a while. I did them a favor and saved them the price of their fuel bill to get home. No doubt somebody stroked out. I trans-located their ships to Boston harbor. I figured that they could find their home ports from there.

Whenever I ran low on funds I used my visor to probe the deep currents beneath the surface to bring up pure metals. It was but the work of a morning to bring up a half ton of platinum, then spend the afternoon selling it off. There were a few bids out there for rare earths that I could fulfill. Some were priced in thousands of dollars per ounce. I'm afraid that I broke more than one scarcity monopoly. I made certain to keep a full accounting and pay my taxes to the government, as I could easily afford it and the national budget was hanging on by its fingernails.

I used one remote viewer to examine another remote viewer. I managed to trace the signal path far enough to isolate the telepathic interface. I was able to create another viewer that terminated at a data trunk and left it for the techs to play with.

Jeremy woke up. I welcomed him to life. I purposefully spent some time in the woods, on mountains, in the deserts, on seashores and at sea to give him a balanced view of what planetary life was all about, not our single-minded humano-centric disaster that we called society.

We carefully ran through all of the lessons that I was taught during my sojurn in the cave complex. I wanted him to have all the tools at his 'fingertips' that I had. Hell, with the right sensors and effectors, he WOULD have fingertips!

I worked towards giving him full senses and kinetic abilities. He watched me carefully and delighted in my efforts at his behest ... He was a good kid and asked what I considered to be the right kinds of questions.

I didn't care to indulge in that sort of thing, but I owed it to Jeremy to spend some time with Jesuits. It wasn't the religious education, but their skills in refutation, logic and debate which would do him well throughout his existence, which arguably had the potential to outlast mine by several orders of magnitude.

Some things made me wish to tear my hair out, such as: "Why do you take such care as to provide bills or coin metal in exchange for products? Why not simply take what you want? You certainly are powerful enough to do so without having to pay any sort of penalty for them, after all."

Arargh. How do you teach ethics and morals to a being that had no background in the subject?. All I could think of was to use the personal cost argument. "If it were you in their place and had to make up the shortage out of your own wages, you'd be pretty unhappy, wouldn't you?"

"Yes. Definitely."

I hold as one of my goals in life to imagine myself on both sides of any arguments. Using this viewpoint to modify my behavior keeps me from being an asshole and keeps me from becoming a sociopath. It's called Empathy. You can get away with a lot of deviant behavior in society as long as you're within a certain acceptable spectrum. If you exceed that, you become the weed that sticks out of the grass and society's lawn mower will sooner or later notice and mow your ass over. This is to be avoided at all costs."

"This is rational."

"Another behavior which I adopted later in life is to do what good acts that I can for people. It's good for my sense of well-being and reflects well on me through the attitudes of others. If I gain the reputation of a 'good guy' then it's like money in the social bank. If I need assistance more people will feel obligated--no, inclined to aid me. Likewise if I absolutely have to do something criminal, all things being equal I would hope to not be considered to be the perpetrator, unless I did something unfortunate such as leaving a unique evidence trail."

"Again, I find this to be rational."

I replied, "I guess I've got to spend some more time around people. We've got to work on those social skills of yours, guy."

The teaching sessions not only changed my body but also reorganized my mind. My memory was much more facile. I found myself able to learn languages fairly easily. I was speaking conversational French within a month and a half. I supplanted the learning process by reading English to French word lists every evening, and I spent an hour each morning reading French language texts to pick up the cases and genders.

I didn't want to be held at the mercy of commercial carriers while moving about. It didn't take me long to learn to fly a little turbo-prop. Once I got my IFR and multi-engine tickets I bought a Beechcraft King-Air 350 while I had a hangar built with a service facility at the Cayenne-Felix Eboue airport. Its runway was easily long enough at roughly thirty two hundred meters. I hired a team of aircraft mechanics that were certified for the craft and got them housed in our little spaceport village.

I didn't worry about internal security. We didn't have any secrets to steal other than the sensors, and their analysis and construction were beyond the capabilities of current engineering. If we had a spy or two, then we had spies. They'd be the most over-paid, bored bastards in existence. Nobody was getting into the power supply closets unless they were me or they were electrons.

When I took delivery of the King Air I sat in the left seat for a while with it powered up, ostensibly to check out and familiarize myself with the instrumentation, but I was building another instrument pack into the plane's frame just beneath and between the cockpit seats. It had a power crystal in it the size of a baseball and a few other crystals that would provide physical protection to the craft and kinetic control. That thing wouldn't crash unless I wanted it to, and it would be a long, long time before it fell out of the sky because it ran out of fuel. The plane's interior was configured with a bunk, an office desk with a computer and a comfortable chair, all just behind the cockpit. The rest of the interior was set aside as cargo space. It left me with a highly flexible craft that could be used to hide many of my large-scale material movements. It was the first King-Air in history that was equipped to hover.

I did some island hopping up the chain of the windward and leeward islands. I'd heard the names of these places associated with wonderful beaches and pampered living, but I was certain that such a life did not exist for the natives--only the tourists! I spent some time on a bicycle exploring Tobago. I found myself smiling a lot. I lived out of my backpack but ate at local roadside stands and 'ordinaries', where someone had opened up their house to host others for dinner, and hopefully bring in a little coin. I brought down the scarcity of gold a bit, but it still stayed above a thousand dollars an ounce, American (currency. A lot of countries use the word 'dollar' to denote their currency.)

I lay back in my hammock one evening near Man 'o War Bay, listening to the breakers. I was feeling whimsical. I wondered what device I should cover my gold coins with? I decided to go with something simple and geometric. I designed six concentric circles for each side and milled the edges, so any shaving would be easily detected. I used my skills and devices to make a few and held them in my hand. Very nice! I could feel the concentric lines with my fingertips. At an ounce each they had a real heft to them. I made a few more before going to sleep just to burn the pattern of their manufactury into my head.

By morning the weather was packing in as a big storm blew in from the east. I wasn't masochistic enough to want to gut it out in the bush, so I untied my hammock and packed it away, peed on a tree and mounted my bicycle. In a moment I had it locked in beneath me. Then I lifted straight up, oriented on the plane and flew the twenty miles or so directly across the island at about two hundred miles an hour. I grinned, remembering one of the last scenes in the movie, 'ET'. I was tempted to pedal like mad while flying just over housetops and howl like a loon.

The storm was kicking up pretty severely by the time I got back to the plane. I loaded the bike aboard and set the plane's shield to surround the craft and anchor deep beneath the tie-down area and into the deep rock below. I snatched a couple slices of sausage pizza and a liter of coke from a service shop in town and left one of my new coins in place of the food. Then I settled down to a wonderfully greasy meal while listening to the commercial radio bands describe the onset and predicted damages of the storm.

In the morning I de-planed to look around. The storm had scoured away most of the signs of civilization on the western tip of the island. The only thing left standing at the airport was the fuelling bunker and my little turbo prop, looking very lonely out there. I spent over a month helping out during the aftermath. I was best at removal so that's what I did. I used kinetic fields to move rubble offshore of the airfield and compact it to a geologist's nightmare with the structural strength of granite.

I wasn't very happy with the head space or the cargo capacity of the King Air. I wanted a 'small' cargo plane that could load pallets, could take off and land from dirt runways and had enough headroom to keep me happy at 6' 6" tall. I'd heard about a Short 330 and did a little investigating. The U. S. military had a variant made with a stronger deck and roller-beds installed, called the C-23 Sherpa. The craft had a lift-tail installed for larger cargo as well. I investigated buying a new one.

They were no longer being made, dammit! The best I could do was to buy a used one and have it shuttled to my space port, where I had it towed into a hangar. I had a comfortable chair set up next to it and spent a lot of hours refurbishing the thing, replacing all the wires, cables, hydraulic lines and bearings. The wing mounts were showing some crazing in the metal, which was probably why the thing had been sold off in the first place. By the time I was done with it, the craft could have been used in an aerial acrobatic competition. I had a professional team install new turboprop engines, an airframe inspector gave it the evil eye, a factory trained team rebuilt the instrumentation and I had it insured. Then the interior got refurbished, from the cockpit to the tail assembly. Once again, I had a bunk, desk and chair installed in a carpeted, sound-proofed section just behind the control cabin. I left the rest as bare metal for cargo. On this craft I had the space, so I added a bathroom, a closet and a dry galley with a microwave and a place to plug in a hot pot. There was a place for a five-gallon waterjug that I could fill by trans-location. I added my 'anti-crash' package near the plane's center of gravity. I had the whole plane painted in dark yellow and green, with a big red star on the tail section. It looked like a flying advertisement for French Guiana! It wasn't too difficult to fly. It was a gutsy thing and pulled itself into the air by brute force. It had a pressurized cabin.

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